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Brice Wallace

Salt Lake City hosting the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer tradeshows — with their combined $47 million annual economic impact — could be in jeopardy.

Outdoor Retailer, in cooperation with the Outdoor Industry Association and Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, said last week they will seek proposals from other cities to host the shows after Salt Lake City’s current contract expires after the summer show in 2018.

In a news release, the organizations added that the current contract will remain in place and that Salt Lake City will be in the running to be the host city thereafter.

The Outdoor Retailer (OR) shows have been at the Salt Palace Convention Center since 1996, with the exception of the 2002 Winter Market, when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics. The show moved from Reno and had 5,000 attendees and used 150,000 square feet of exhibit space in its first year in Utah. Last month’s Winter Market had 25,000 attendees and more than 700,000 square feet of exhibit space.

“Outdoor Retailer has always been about ‘Right time, right place, right stuff,’” said Marisa Nicholson, OR show director. “We’ve been listening to the concerns from the industry and agree that it’s time to explore our options. Salt Lake City has been an incredible home to Outdoor Retailer and the outdoor community for the past 20 years, and we aren’t opposed to staying, but we need to do what’s best for the industry and for the business of outdoor retail.”

While Darrell Denny, executive vice president for Emerald Expositions’ Sports Group, the owner and operator of Outdoor Retailer, said that land-use policy is only one factor in soliciting proposals from other cities, a pair of prominent outdoor apparel company leaders have been critical of state government’s policy regarding the management of monuments, parks and public lands in Utah.

Peter Metcalf, founder, former chief executive officer and current brand advocate for Black Diamond Equipment, said in a newspaper op-ed in January that “it’s time for Outdoor Retailer to leave the state in disgust.” Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the same month said that “I’m sure other states will happily compete for the show by promoting public lands conservation.”

Patagonia announced last week it would not return to OR shows in Utah in response to Gov. Gary Herbert’s recent signing of a resolution calling on President Donald Trump to repeal the Bears Ears National Monument.

The OR shows attract retailers, manufacturers, industry advocates and media focused on outdoor recreation. The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has more than 1,200 manufacturer, supplier, sales representative and retailer members. The Grassroots Outdoor Alliance has 62 independent specialty outdoor retailers with more than 127 locations in 36 states and more than 70 specialty-focused brands.

“Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, in partnership with OIA and Outdoor Retailer, is committed to ensuring the best possible tradeshow cycle and experience for our retailers and vendor partners,” Rich Hill, alliance president, said in announcing the solicitation of bids from other cities. “We feel the announcement today will ensure that we’ll choose the best location to host a co-located Grassroots Connect and Outdoor Retailer. Our 62 independent specialty retailers look forward to being in a location that from a business, cultural and values standpoint best serves our industry.”

In a statement from Amy Roberts, executive director, OIA said it “encouraged and supports Outdoor Retailer’s decision to explore a range of host cities for the gathering of our community.”

“The appropriate location of Outdoor Retailer should be determined by factors ranging from business economics for vendors and attendees to a location that upholds our industry’s core values around the importance of America’s public lands system,” Roberts said. “We will continue to educate policymakers on the economic contribution of our industry as well as our support of preserving places to recreate.”

Denny said that the OR show producers’ responsibilities “require us to consider all aspects of any city and state that may serve as host to the thousands of brands, retailers, media and others who make up the entire outdoor community. Those criteria include facilities, hotels, transportation, labor costs, environmental policies and the degree to which host states are in sync with outdoor industry values.

“This decision allows us to explore new venues while taking all of these factors into account. That said, Salt Lake City has been a welcoming and beneficial host to Outdoor Retailer for many years and will be among candidates to continue to be the host city.”

The most recent Winter Market had a $22 million economic impact, based on direct delegate spending. Last year’s Summer Market had an estimated $27 million economic impact. Estimates for the show’s first 20 years in Salt Lake City put the total economic impact at $565 million, as well as producing $52 million in city, county and state tax revenues.

“We have been told that the industry recognizes the greater Salt Lake community, our locally elected officials and the Salt Palace Convention Center as being enormous partners,” said Scott Beck, president and chief executive officer of Visit Salt Lake.

Beck said the request for proposals (RFP) process is not unexpected or new because it is the second time such a process has been undertaken by the OR owners during his 10 years at Visit Salt Lake.

“But there is clearly a growing concern among some in the industry that their collective ethos and their long-held views on the preservation of public lands is not reflected in the actions of our governor, Legislature and our federal delegation,” Beck said. “That said, the community of Salt Lake and the Salt Palace Convention Center are among the most sustainable in the industry, and we hope via the RFP process that we can show how the business event called the OR Markets have a strong partner in the stewardship of our natural environment in Salt Lake.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams also said this is not the first time an RFP has been issued, “and, as always, Salt Lake County welcomes the opportunity to highlight all that it has to offer Outdoor Retailer’s Summer and Winter markets.”

He said the proximity of the airport, downtown and the mountains “has proven to be the right mix for the OR shows here and I think it continues to be a strong draw.”

“Many in our state value protecting recreation and open spaces, including hundreds who collaborated on Mountain Accord, which achieves a balance between the environment, recreation, economic development and transportation,” McAdams said. “The community of Salt Lake and the Salt Palace Convention Center are among the most sustainable in the industry and we look forward to showcasing that to the outdoor companies and their representatives and customers.”

The current Salt Lake City contract is an extension announced in 2015 to keep the show in Utah two more years — through the 2018 summer show. At the time, show organizers said two-thirds of more than 6,000 surveyed specialty retailer attendees and exhibitors indicated a preference for keeping the show in Salt Lake City. In making the extension announcement, Robert said “we look forward to continuing the dialogue with the state of Utah around public lands issues.”

Space also has become an issue. Since 2012, the OR shows have used several large pavilions to accommodate space needs, and work continues to develop a 850-room convention center hotel at or near the Salt Palace Convention Center.

The Denver Post reported that voters there recently approved a sales tax continuation that would spark the city of Denver’s $1.1 billion plan to grow the National Western Center into a complex capable of hosting large gatherings. Richard Scharf, leader of Visit Denver, said the city’s convention center and the National Western Center are being expanded and the organization looks forward “to working with OR on any potential opportunities in the future,” the Post reported last week.

Metcalf’s January op-ed said that Utah’s political leadership had, over several months, “unleashed an all-out assault against Utah’s protected public lands and Utah’s newest monument.”

“Our trade show, Utah’s outdoor recreation industry and the relocating of many high-tech businesses to the state are predicated in great part on the thoughtful public policy that includes unparalleled access to well-protected, stewarded and wild public lands,” he wrote. “Tragically, Utah’s governor, congressional delegation and state Legislature leadership fail to understand this critical relationship between our healthy public lands and the vitality of Utah’s growing economy. … Together, Utah’s political leadership has birthed an anti-public lands political agenda that is the driving force of an existential threat to the vibrancy of Utah and America’s outdoor industry, as well as Utah’s high quality of life.”

In his January criticism, Chouinard said outdoor recreation in Utah drives $12 billion in consumer spending annually and supports 122,000 jobs across the state. He described the OR shows as “a cash cow for Salt Lake City.”

“You’d think politicians in Utah would bend over backwards to make us feel welcome,” he said. “But instead, Gov. Gary Herbert and his buddies have spent years denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business, and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder. He’s created a hostile environment that puts our industry at risk.” He called on the governor to “stop his efforts to transfer public lands to the state, which would spell disaster for Utah’s economy.”